What Are The 6 Questions A Reporter Asks?

What Are The 6 Questions A Reporter Asks?

Asking the right questions is a critical skill for any journalist. The questions you ask as a reporter directly impact the quality of information you are able to gather, the insights you can provide to readers, and ultimately the success of your journalism career.

Mastering the core journalistic questions will enable you to effectively research stories, conduct interviews, and get to the heart of the issues you cover. As the saying goes in journalism – “You’re only as good as your last question.

“So what exactly are these essential journalistic questions that all reporters should have in their toolkit? There are 6 key questions that make up the foundation:

The 6 Key Journalistic Questions:

  1. Who is involved?
  2. What happened?
  3. When did it happen?
  4. Where did it take place?
  5. Why did it happen?
  6. How did it happen?

Let’s explore each of these in more detail, along with tips on how to use these questions to take your journalism to the next level.

Who – Identifying the Key Players

The “who” question focuses on the people involved in the story you are covering. As a journalist, you need to find out:

  • Who are the main people or groups involved?
  • Who is affected most directly?
  • Who caused or created the situation?
  • Who is responsible?
  • Who has the power to instigate change?

Identifying the key players provides context and human interest to ground your journalism. It enables you to tap into first-hand experiences through interviews. Getting insight from those most affected or involved will lead to more authoritative and compelling journalism.

Tips for using the “Who” question effectively:

  • Dig deeper than just names: Learn about their background, expertise, motivations and connections to uncover the role they play.
  • Cast a wide net: Look beyond the obvious people involved to find voices that add unique perspectives.
  • Follow the influence: If a decision was made, find out who had the power to make it and who influenced them.

Using the “who” question as your starting point will reveal the human side of an issue and help determine who you should interview.

What – Getting the Key Facts

The “what” question focuses on finding out what actually happened or is happening. As a journalist, you need to find out:

  • What events, incidents or actions occurred?
  • What decisions were made?
  • What policies, products, data or information is involved?

The “what” question digs into the key facts. Accurately reporting what happened, free from assumptions or speculation, is a fundamental part of journalism.

Tips for using the “What” question effectively:

  • Be specific: Get to the tangible information – data, evidence, actual statements made.
  • Nail down details: Identify sequences, decisions, policies and factual circumstances.
  • Beware speculation: Stick to confirmed facts and be wary of rumors or assumptions.

Asking “what” questions will help you gather comprehensive information and gain clarity on events and issues you cover as a journalist.

When – Establishing Timelines

The “when” question zeroes in on the timing of key events. As a journalist, you need to find out details like:

  • When did events unfold?
  • When were critical decisions made?
  • When did people involved find out?

Pinpointing the timing and sequence of events through “when” questions is crucial for complete and accurate reporting. It also reveals causality – the relationship between preceding events and subsequent effects.

Tips for using the “When” question effectively:

  • Be specific: Get exact dates, times, sequences, frequencies.
  • Map it out: Build a timeline of critical events.
  • Look for patterns: Identify when-then relationships and trends over time.

Getting crystal clear on the timing of events can expose coverups, collusion or failures to act when reporting big stories. Precise timelines also aid reader understanding.

Where – Tracking Location and Place

The “where” question zeroes in on locations, places and spaces involved in the issue. As a journalist, you need to find out details like:

  • Where did events happen?
  • Where were key decisions made?
  • Where will people be impacted?

Like timing, nailing down locations associated with the story provides clarity for you and readers. It also enables you to visit sites to add color and scene-setting texture.

Tips for using the “Where” question effectively:

  • Map it out: Identify all geographical connections – where actions originated and effects landed.
  • Get on location: Visit places connected to the story to aid reporting.
  • Evaluate spaces: Assess locations involved and impacts on communities.

Getting out to locations your stories involve will add authenticity and authority. Describing spaces also helps readers envision unfolding events.

Why – Understanding Motivations and Causes

The “why” question explores underlying reasons, motivations and causes. As a journalist, you need to find out:

  • Why did events happen?
  • Why did people make certain decisions or take certain actions?
  • Why did a system or process fail?

Getting to the root of why cuts beneath surface events to expose connections, incentives and explanations. It sheds light on human behavior and decisions.

Tips for using the “Why” question effectively:

  • Consider many angles: Challenge initial assumptions by probing underlying factors.
  • Follow the trail: Trace events and decisions back to identify originating catalysts.
  • Highlight motives: Explore the incentives, motivations and biases behind human actions.

Getting clarity on why things happened the way they did can lead to pivotal revelations in your journalism.

How – Understanding Process and Method

Finally, the “how” question explores process, method and chains of causation. As a journalist, you need to find out details like:

  • How did events unfold?
  • How were decisions made?
  • How were actions executed?

Drilling down on methodology provides procedural clarity and helps unpack failures or manipulation.

Tips for using the “How” question effectively:

  • Map it out: Model step-by-step sequences.
  • Look for gaps: Identify missing links that enabled failures.
  • Check claims: Verify statements about methodology.

Asking precise “how” questions will help you decipher complex processes and provide analysis.

Using the 6 Questions Together

While each question has a distinct purpose, the real power comes from blending them together as you report. Start by asking the “who” question to find the people connected to the story. Then drill down with “what,” “when” and “where” questions to establish factual foundations. With that baseline, probe further with “why” and “how” questions to get into motivations and explanations behind the facts.

Iterating between the foundational questions and analytical questions as you interview sources and gather information will extract maximum value. Often the insights you need are hidden between the lines, requiring persistence and creativity with your line of inquiry.

As you file stories, weave in answers to all six questions. Paint the picture of who was involved, what transpired, when, where and why things occurred, along with how they unfolded. This provides readers with complete, structured understanding.

While this may seem formulaic, artful journalists blend these questions fluidly, revealing crucial truths without readers noticing the techniques involved.

Asking Better Questions

Beyond the core journalistic questions, exceptional reporting requires learning to ask better questions in general. Here are some quick tips:

  1. Start broad, get narrow: Open with a wider question then drill down to specifics.
  2. Follow up: Don’t accept vague or incomplete answers. Probe further.
  3. Change lenses: Flip perspectives by asking “what if” questions.
  4. Challenge assumptions: Play devil’s advocate by questioning premises.
  5. Connect dots: Draw out causality with questions like “How might x have led to y?”
  6. Spot gaps: If the sequence of events doesn’t make sense, find the missing links.
  7. Depersonalize: Ask “what would you advise your best friend to do in this situation?” to uncover real feelings.
  8. Repeat: If you get valuable insight from one source, test it with other sources.

Getting in the habit of probing beyond surface answers will supercharge your journalism.

Common Reporting Challenges

While mastering the core questions sets you up for success, the reality of daily reporting also demands overcoming common challenges:

Sources Dodge Questions

Solution: Call them out respectfully. Say “I don’t feel you’ve fully answered my question which was…” and repeat it. Consider asking it in various ways.

Sources Go “Off the Record”

Solution: Clarify up front what can be reported. Classify info they insist is off record as “background context only” to avoid over-reliance.

Sources Won’t Stop Talking

Solution: Politely interject saying “I want to be respectful of your time” and guide them back to outstanding questions.

Sources Have Hidden Agendas

Solution: Check claims through independent verification and watch for red flags like defensiveness or evasion.

Sources Conflict

Solution: Note discrepancies transparently in reporting and dig deeper to determine most credible perspectives.Persistence and rigor in asking questions, while building mutual understanding with sources, will help you overcome these hurdles.

Presenting Your Findings

Once you’ve done the work to gather robust information by asking the right questions, presenting your findings effectively is critical. Here are some quick tips:

  1. Lead with the punchline: Open articles and segments with the most critical finding or compelling scene.
  2. Structure reveals: Sequence information for dramatic effect. Group related facts.
  3. Show don’t tell: Use vivid details, scenes, dialogue, and data visualizations.
  4. No false balance: If the weight of facts supports one perspective, don’t give equal time to fringe views.
  5. Bring it to life: Share human moments that show authentic emotion.
  6. Use multimedia: Combine words, interactive graphics, video or audio to enhance storytelling.

Curating your reporting into compelling packages for readers/viewers takes creativity and strategy.

Improving Questioning Skills

Mastering when and how to ask the right journalistic questions takes practice. Here are some ideas:

  • Read widely: Notice how top journalists structure their questions in interviews.
  • Catalog questions: Record good questions you come across including from readers.
  • Reflect after interviews: Identify areas to improve like avoiding leading questions.
  • Study transcripts: See where journalists uncovered pivotal revelations.
  • Emulate experts: Read/watch those you admire and borrow smart techniques.
  • Ask for feedback: Encourage editors, experts and readers to critique your questioning approach.

Make constant refinement of your interviewing and questioning skills a priority if you want to excel as a journalist.


Getting to the heart of issues and uncovering the truth by asking insightful questions sits at the very core of journalism. Mastering this craft takes dedication but will set you apart. As Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Bob Woodward noted: “I think good journalism, good reporting, is like a good conversation.

“Keep that conversational spirit of curiosity alive by internalizing the fundamentals around the six key journalistic questions. Combine them fluently as you report each story. Complement them with advanced tactics for asking better questions. Doing so will empower you to contribute high-impact journalism that explains, enlightens and expands worldviews.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some red flags to watch out for when interviewing sources?

Some red flags include defensiveness when probed around certain topics, reluctance to provide details or verify claims, overt anxiety when answering simple clarifying questions, and inconsistencies in accounts given to other journalists on the same topic. These should trigger deeper questioning.

What ethics should journalists follow when conducting interviews?

Key ethical guidelines are to honestly disclose your reporting intentions from the outset, respect privacy concerns, minimize harm by avoiding exposing interviewees to danger, triple check accuracy of explosive claims before publishing, allow review of quotes only to ensure accuracy (not change meaning), and apply fairness by seeking multiple perspectives.

How can I improve my interviewing and note-taking skills?

Great ways to improve are to always record interviews if possible, practice active listening techniques like paraphrasing back key points, take sparse notes focused only on jotting critical quotes/facts, learn shorthand techniques, organize notes right after interviews while fresh, and reflect on what questions worked well or missed the mark.

What makes a great journalistic interview question?

A great journalistic interview question is clear, simple, focused on a specific gap in information, seeks a factual response when possible, is neutral without embedded assumptions, elicits personal experiences and emotions, and probes “why” and “how” motives and processes beyond just surface “who, what, when” facts.

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